The Edmonton Oilers didn’t just flirt with disaster on Sunday night, they came close to tying the knot.
Nearly halfway through their Game 4 battle with the Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton was trailing 3-1 and staring down the barrel of a 3-1 series deficit. That wouldn’t have have been a death sentence per se, but it could be fairly described as a situation they would’ve been unlikely to escape — especially with the Kings playing solid hockey.
Luckily for the Oilers, they employ a man by the name of Leon Draisaitl.
First, the German superstar brought the game within one by finding an open spot in front of the net and firing the puck home.
Then, he sent his team into the second intermission with the score tied, with a power-play goal off a penalty he drew himself:
Considering Draisaitl is a former Hart Trophy winner who ranks 16th all-time in points per game, it would be hard to call him an unlikely hero, but he still gets overshadowed by Connor McDavid at times. That isn’t happening in these playoffs.
Draisaitl is delivering precisely when Edmonton needs it most on the way to a league-leading nine playoff points. Even that impressive production might be underselling his impact. The 26-year-old has been on the ice for every goal the Oilers have scored against the Kings.
Put another way, Edmonton is outscoring Los Angeles 14-4 in the 93:42 when Draisaitl is out there and being outscored 9-0 in the 169:40 when he’s on the bench.
While Draisaitl’s power-play prowess plays a role in that, Edmonton has outshot the Kings 53-45 and outscored them 8-4 during the star’s even-strength minutes.
These numbers would be more eye-opening if Draisaitl hadn’t already established himself as an incredible playoff performer. His career average of 1.659 points per game in the postseason ranks second all-time among players with at least 50 playoffs points, behind only Wayne Gretzky (1.837).
Although McDavid is fifth on that list (1.488) it’s clear Draisaitl has been Edmonton’s best threat in the clutch across five playoff runs. Those runs haven’t generally been deep, but that’s hardly the three-time 50-goal man’s fault — or McDavid’s for that matter.
Because Draisaitl is the league’s best power-play scorer, and his two-way game isn’t as widely lauded as some other superstars, he doesn’t seem like an obvious candidate to raise his game in the playoffs. He may also suffer from stereotypes about European players’ toughness — and the way bruisers in their 30s from rural Canada can get lionized at this time of year more than players with superlative skill.
At the same time, Draisaitl has picked up down-ballot Selke Trophy votes in the past. He’s also a strong 208-pounder who’s very difficult to dislodge from the puck and has never provided any reason to doubt his toughness. What he’s done is remarkable, but it’s not shocking.
Discussion about the Oilers’ inability to achieve playoff success in recent years tends to centre around wasting McDavid’s prime, but failing to make use of Draisaitl’s mammoth playoff production is almost as noteworthy.
On Sunday, Edmonton appeared to be on the precipice of another playoff disappointment, but it got dragged back by a player who never seems to disappoint when the games matter most. If the Oilers are going to escape a surprisingly difficult first-round series, it looks like they’re going to need more magic from the NHL’s most consistent playoff producer.
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